Street art is proof that some of the best pieces of art, at least contemporary art, are not locked inside museums. Instead, they are out in the open for everyone to enjoy.
Graffiti has got to be one of the most democratic methods of plastic expression these days. It decorates abandoned buildings, gives color to dark spots in the city, and most of all it serves as means of expression for artists who are dying to have their voices heard. It is a form of cultural expression and a way of discussing politics with a twist.
Artists who take buildings and the streets as their own art gallery have the capacity of talking to the masses directly. No one has to make their way to go and see their art. Instead it is right there, in your face, and it is usually impossible to ignore it.
The streets have a voice and today, with the help of a bunch of great travel bloggers who’ve been to different corners of the world, this voice shall be heard right here on Backpack ME.
If you’re a lover of graffiti then you can’t go past Melbourne, Australia as city full of vibrant street art. Not only is it famous for it’s street art, but it’s actually encouraged by the local council. Well the good stuff at least. With a predominant art scene in Melbourne already, graffiti really helps add that extra grungy charm throughout the city streets.
Within the labyrinth of twisting lane-ways and dead end streets you can find all types of creative street art pieces, murals, stencils and characters of any shape and size. And what’s great about Melbourne is that the city itself is fairly small, so you can cover all the main spots of the city by foot. Each piece has a timeline though, so be sure to keep popping back past your favorite shots to see what’s new.
By Jules and Christine from Don’t Forget To Move
Here is one of my favorite pieces of street art in Bogota, Colombia. The city (which is the size of New York) has one of the most vibrant and thriving street art scenes I have seen. Lots of different artists collaborating to make the city more beautiful. Some pieces are political and some are just meant to be pretty or interesting.
By Stephanie of Twenty-Something Traveler
In 1979, Iranian students overran the US Embassy in Tehran and took 66 employees hostage, an act that was in retaliation to the US granting their corrupt Shah asylum, a man who the people wanted to be properly tried in court for his crimes. The Iranians held the American embassy workers hostage for 444 days. Following this event, the (former) US Embassy was spray painted with anti-American (and anti-Israeli) slogans and images, which remain to this day. You’re actually not supposed to take pictures of the graffiti, but we got a couple of sneaky shots! Western media has since portrayed Iran in a negative way. However, this is a country that is very misunderstood. We backpacked through this Middle Eastern nation for over a month and we thoroughly enjoyed travelling here. The people of Iran are not terrorists. This is a country where we met some of the kindest people we’ve ever encountered; a place where we felt totally safe and had some wonderful experiences. We would love to return one day.
By Dariece of Goats on the Road
Montreal is a city that loves its graffiti! Most of the large murals can be found along the side streets off of Rue Sainte Catherine or along Boulevard Saint Laurent. In the summer, Montreal hosts the “MURAL Festival” which invites both local and international artists to come and create some murals on select city walls. I happened to be there while the festival was taking place, and it was really cool to watch the artists at work and see how the pieces progressed over the course of the day. This is a really fun city to explore on foot because you just never know what kind of street art you’re going to find at the turn of the corner.
By Audrey of ThatBackpacker.com
This July Toronto, Canada hosted World Pride — an event celebrating LGBT community. It turned out to be a huge street party that lasted a week. Living around the corner from all the festivities, I got to enjoy many of them including the parade, of course. I think Canada (same-sax marriage has been recognized here since 2005) and especially Toronto is a perfect place for an event like this. Our city is extremely open-minded, friendly to internationals and has a very large gay community. This mural was created by volunteers to commemorate World Pride and is the latest of 20+ other murals on the same street.
By Irina of Trips That Work
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is well known around the world mainly for the record-breaking buildings that have been constructed there over the last two decades. While the city is certainly not know for its street art, some buildings in the older areas as well as certain modern-day offices in Al Quoz (Dubai’s industrial area) have been adorned with some beautiful work.
We spotted this wall art in Bur (Old) Dubai near the creek area and it immediately caught our attention. The art depicts a man playing an oud (stringed instrument used in Arabic music) with a bonfire behind him, quite close to his tent. He also has a pet cat, which is playfully listening to him play music. Meanwhile the gentleman’s coffee is being prepared in a dallah (pot for making Arabic coffee). This graffiti depicts the Bedouin lifestyle in a very modern and funky way. The colours in the background are very rich, while the patterns are typically found in Arabic architecture and art.
It definitely brightened our day, and adds character to the area. To find out more about this lesser known side of Dubai, take a look at our photo essay on Bur Dubai here.
By Ankit & Andrea of Scribble, Snap, Travel
East London, UK
This large mural by Alexis Dias in East London is one of many amazing pieces of street art you’ll find in Shoreditch, London. The East End of London is often regarded as a great destination for street art and graffiti artists. Because of the neighborhood’s rich, culturally diverse history, the area has long been a hotspot for creativity and artists. Street artists travel from around the world to visit the area and contribute to the evolving history of East London. You can even take tours through Shoreditch and other areas of East London that highlight the best street art.
By Adam of Travelsofadam.com
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is known for its charming northern Thai architecture from the Lanna Kindgom, beautiful temples, and peaceful green hills. It has much less of a street art scene than Bangkok and other Asian cities like Georgetown. This piece stood out both because of its location within the walls of the Old Quarter and for the aggressiveness of its message, which seems totally at odds with the Thai people and their culture. This is something I’d expect to see in a place like New York City, not the “Land of Smiles”.
By Courtney of Wanderrlust
La Paz, Bolivia
This example of street art can be found near the witches market of La Paz, Bolivia. I love its subtle, but strong presence. The barred window gives it an extra dimension. Most Bolivian street art tends to have a political background.
By Manouk of Bunch of Backpackers
One of the first things I noticed in the relentlessly hot town of León was the large-scaled murals of the Sandinista revolution and its heroes. Along with the local markets, the sound of horse-carts passing and the lack of 7-elevens, this old, Spanish town has the feeling of being stuck in time.
Walking through the dusty streets of León past the colonial churches and old people in rocking chairs, you’ll see many prominent revolutionary displays such as the Mausoleum of Heroes and Martyrs. Close by, the town’s colorful, cracked walls are painted with murals to memorialize those individuals who fought against the Somaza dictatorship who ruled Nicaragua from 1933-1979. It was overthrown after workers, peasants, students and guerillas joined forces and defeated the regime in 1979.
The young Edgar Munguia was one of the Sandinistas revolutionaries in the 1960’s. But Somoza’s Guardia Civil abducted him and two other men, tortured and abused them so severely that only Edgar survived – but only to be chained to a vehicle and dragged through the streets till he died.
The revolution marked a significant period in Nicaraguan history, and these honorary murals ensure that the heroes and martyrs will never be forgotten.
By Miriam of Adventurous Miriam
Haji Lane is a hipster neighbourhood in the downtown of Singapore. All walls here are covered with colourful witty graffiti. In general paintings’ topics are related to buildings’ purposes, for example, fashion shops have huge portraits of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe and restaurants’ walls are covered with food illustrations.
One cannot help but make pictures of every single house. We especially enjoyed vintage clothes shops, it’s truly the best place for budget shopping!
How to get there: take MRT to Bugis station. Then exit towards Raffles Hospital. It’s less than 10 minutes by foot.
By Illia and Nastia of Crazzzy Travel
San Francisco, USA
One of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco is the popular Clarion alley located in the Mission District of San Francisco. The artwork is always changing and challenging to view because it incorporates art and graffiti that is raw, depicting social injustice, urban blight/issue and also the beauty of the world we live in. The artwork and detail is above graffiti and worth visiting if you are in this fun and colorful neighborhood. To view more of this alleyway, please check this post.
By Noel of Travel Photo Discovery
The street art scene in Istanbul, Turkey is continuously growing and developing, drawing International artists as well as local. It has some of the most interesting displays that I have seen in the world, but, there was one creative and colorful piece in particular that held my attention.
While walking down Mueyyet Sokak there was a block long piece of art that deserved a second…and third…look. Boyali Eller, a well-known graffiti artist in Turkey, created this artwork where pop culture meets sarcastic humor and equals incredible street art. He manages to mix mainstream phenomenon’s with old school ideas. The best example being three Angry Birds displaying the proverbial principal of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.
By Annette of Bucket List Journey
When I firstly made it to Rethymno, which is located in Crete, I was surprised by the sight of graffiti everywhere – on the walls, buildings, and sometimes even ancient sites. Believe me or not, but some of them look like they were thousands of years old!
Seeing graffiti in the street was a bit shocking for me. Why? It’s simple. To me, Greece was an idyllic, aesthetic Mediterranean travel destination and home to some of the best ancient monuments in the world. Greece and street artwork? It was definitely a no to me, but I quickly got used to it. It’s nice, neat, not aggressive, mostly featuring Greek letters on the walls. One of 20 reasons you should choose to visit Crete this summer!
By Agness of eTramping
Buenos Aires, Argentina
There’s no doubt about it, Buenos Aires is a fantastic place to find street art, and in particular the city’s oldest neighbourhood, San Telmo. Here, you barely have to walk half a block to find some cool art adorning a wall of an apartment block, much of it quirky, whimsical or even moving. Sure, you can find street art in other parts of the city, notably La Boca, Palermo and Belgrano, but it’s in San Telmo you’ll find some of the best pieces. Together with the hipster vibe, cool cafés, cute Sunday markets and people dancing tango on the street, San Telmo is the best neighbourhood of Buenos Aires to wander around and discover the street art scene.
By Sam from Indefinite Adventure
Wandering around central Malaga I’ve took a wrong turn and ended up discovering this huge piece on a 9 stored house just in front of me. Starting at floor two and ending up near the roof, I can’t imagine how much time it took drawing it.
The credits should go to ROA – a Belgium artist leaving stunning animal murals at random European cities. So in case you spot a black and white, inked-styled graffiti with extremely realistic looking animals – that’s probably him!
As for this particular piece – I find it more than stunning (not only because of the size!). The plot seems intriguing to me and made me think of how we all often try to grab harder that one thing we are desperate for.
By Elena of Elena’s Travelgram
Defying the underground/renegade/anti-establishment nature of graffiti, Georgetown’s well-known street art scene is very deliberate and in fact commissioned by the government. While you can find many different themes, styles, and mediums, it all started in 2009 with the Kuala Lumpur-based firm Sculpture at Work, who have now created over 50 steel rod sculptures depicting the daily life of local citizens. We couldn’t help but be drawn to this piece since happy hour is our favorite time of the day.
By H.J. of Wanderrlust
This street art piece named “Boy on a Bike” is by the very talented Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic and we spotted it in the city of George Town in Malaysia. We loved how different Zacharevic’s style is from the street art we are used to.
Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned in 2012 by the Penang Municipal Council to create a street art project called ‘Mirrors George Town‘ which consisted of painting several large scale murals in different location of the old town. His wall paintings in fact represent characters and scenes that celebrate the energy and playfulness of life in the inner city. These murals have in fact transformed what used to be normal streets into more unusual, lively, witty and engaging ones.
People love to stop and take part in the murals he created, posing in funny ways and having their photo taken, mainly because Zacharevic’s street art pieces have an object integrated, which in this particular case was a disused motorbike.
By Franca from AngloItalian FollowUs
Kota Kinabalu, Borneo
This piece of graffiti we found in the center of the city, which is famous for ecotourism. Located between three banks and opposite Suria Sabah mall, the graffiti concrete pillars and walls is a landmark of the city. It used to be a two-floor Old Welfare Building with a high-pitched roof at the beginning of the 20th century, when the city was under the British administration. Together with the Atkinson Clock Tower and former post office, they are the only three buildings that survived bombing in 1945. In 1992, Sabah Art Gallery proposed reusing the place as a gallery, but their idea was burned down along with the building a few months later.
This graffiti is legal, and the majority of overlapping drawings are done by the Cracko Art Group and local artists (Cracko, Lybby, Harold EGN). Although, anybody can ‘contribute’ and even purchase some graffiti spray paint at the “6 days 9″ shop nearby. The future of the graffiti is precarious, as developers have been lobbying to get the building for commercial use. In 2007, Sabah’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment promised to protect it as a historical landmark, so let’s hope it all ends up well.
By Ivana of Nomad is Beautiful
Graffiti seems to be one of those street arts that split the world in two. What is received by some as actual art and a valuable contribution to the environment is seen by others as pure vandalism. This is obviously no different for Berlin, a city that as far as I can think back has always been covered in graffiti.
Of course everyone remembers the graffiti on the Berlin Wall, but it was quite interesting to see it spread into the east and covering all sorts of abandoned buildings. Today only few of these ruined, graffiti covered buildings still remain in Berlin and visiting them is actually a really curious thing to do. Not only do they let one wonder about the former use of the structure, but interestingly enough the graffiti actually seems to re-connect the two worlds of vandalism and street art, while letting the entire building appear as one complete work of art.
By Dennis of See The World In My Eyes
This is one of my favourite street art works I found during my backpacking time in Colombia. When in beautiful Cartagena, go to Plaza Trinidad – a place where artists, locals and beer drinking nomads hang (from evening till late night hours). And then just look for the girl painting. Isn’t she beautiful?
Damien from Nomad Letters
The beautiful architecture of Riga, Latvia captured my imagination almost immediately after my move here. The city is most famous for its Art Nouveau buildings, adorned with eerie faces, menacing bears and medieval dragons. But there is also a wide array of other styles, from ancient timber frame houses to massive concrete Soviet-era apartment blocks. What’s interesting is that the latter are often tagged with graffiti and street art while the more historical buildings are untouched, as if a tacit current of respect for the past runs through Riga’s youth.
I stumbled across one of my favorite pieces of street art in Riga’s Quiet District. It’s a stencil of two seemingly Asian girls decked out in accessories and flashing piece signs, the stark black and red design virtually popping off the beige concrete. It was an unexpected find in Northern Europe and reminds me of the two years I spent in China before moving here.
By Heather of Ferreting Out The Fun
We’ve been around quite a bit and no street art has caught my attention the same way as in Chile. Graffiti is very present all over the country, not only in the capital, Santiago. Pieces tend to be extremely colorful, with a lot of Latin elements and very politically charged!
This mural covers the side of a residential building in the neighborhood of San Miguel, in Santiago de Chile, and it was created by Tristan Matta and Teodoro Schmidt. I will leave the interpretation of the images up to you (because there are a lot of details to observe and think about in this one!) but I’d like to tell you that it is part of an “Open Air Museum” project. Using the entire neighborhood as canvas for expression of local and international artists, the project aims at embellishing an area otherwise known for degradation and social exclusion.
In Chile, the best pieces of art are out there for everyone to see and feel – for free!
By Zara of Backpack ME
Where have you seen good graffiti during your travels?
Link up to your photos in the comments!